Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Renaissance Man: Art of LeRoi C. Johnson

By Lachin Hatemi M.D.

A successful artist and lawyer, LeRoi C. Johnson recently debuted his art exhibition, “Electric Primitive,” in Buffalo, New York. LeRoi is a self-trained symbolist artist who can boast several international exhibitions, with his last one in Toronto. His artworks also have been exhibited in the United States, Africa, South America and Europe during the last decade. 

LeRoi’s art includes symbolism that originates from his own life experiences and dreams. His work closely resembles African and South American themes with a touch of modernism. Some of his paintings have political undertones with references to war, President Obama, and religion. Others focus on love, unity and beauty. A major theme is "Colored People ". LeRoi states that we are all colored people whether white, black, brown or yellow. Varied representational portraits of Obama can be seen in some of the artwork expressing contemporary political commentary along with African symbols of fertility.

His art is partly a reflection of poverty and depiction of the underprivileged, which is apparent in the “Favelas” – the famous and crime infested slums of Brazil – which appear prominently in his paintings. These images are without question based on his frequent visits to Rio de Janeiro.

He began painting at a very young age, with his only formal art training coming from a high school art class. He continued to paint in law school documenting his life during that period.

LeRoi is not a stranger to fame, though – after all, he was the brother and business manager of King of Funk, Rick James, a native son of Buffalo. He is also the cousin to the famous Stokes Brothers Carl and Louis of Cleveland, Ohio.

LeRoi was born in the East Side Projects to a Catholic mother with eight kids. His mother was an entrepreneur on the wrong side of the law – she was an office manager to the east side numbers racket moving large amounts of money for the East Side kingpins. Still, his mother’s business acumen allowed LeRoi to enroll at Georgetown Law School and afterwards to spend a year in Europe.

LeRoi considers this exhibition a “retrospective,” as it consists of a mix of recent works painted during the last few years along with a number that span a forty year period.     

Strong African influences can be seen in the presence of African tribal icons and symbolism. Surrounded by an extensive private African art collection in his home, LeRoi did not need to look beyond his living room to find inspiration.

Bright colors, broad brushstrokes and split images are common in most of his art. The unusual selection of bright colors reminds us of several famous Haitian artists – so no surprise that LeRoi was the first and only American artist featured in Art Media Haiti.

LeRoi is a prominent member of the Buffalo’s art and legal community. We look forward to seeing his future exhibitions.

Lachin Hatemi is a physician in Buffalo, New York. His interests include human rights, medical education and interfaith dialogue. You can reach Lachin at 


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